Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Talks Education, Race At Lecture
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes University’s Max Rosenn Lecture Series has featured plenty of notable names from the world of law, politics and media — including author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward.
But on Sunday at the McHale Athletic Center, the school might have welcomed its most prestigious guest yet.
Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the greatest scorer in NBA history and a six-time champion — took the stage to an immediate standing ovation and fielded questions from Wilkes President Patrick Leahy in a program titled “Becoming Kareem.” The 71-year-old spoke not only about his acclaimed athletic career, but also his experiences as an author, actor and political activist.
“There was a real energy with having him here,” Leahy said after the lecture. “It continues to elevate the quality of the of the series. We’ve had some big names, but many are not as well-known as he is.”
The lecture series is named in honor of Max Rosenn, a Luzerne County native and former judge that served on the United States Court of Appeals. He died in 2006.
Following the main presentation, Abdul-Jabbar signed copies of his books for hundreds of fans who snaked their way through a line from the opposite end of the building.
Abdul-Jabbar, with a mix of humor and serious introspection, talked about the state of education and race relations in the United States, the latter of which he said has seen areas of both progress and regression. Making reference to both the Black power Salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics and recent onfield protests by football player Colin Kaepernick, Abdul-Jabbar said it’s important for young Americans to use critical thinking to make wise judgments and decisions.
Abdul-Jabbar has had to make similar choices throughout his life. He refused to participate in those same Olympic Games because the International Olympic Committee president, Avery Brundage, had disallowed two Jewish athletes from competing in the 1936 Berlin Games.
“I wouldn’t go across the street with him, much less to the Olympics,” he said, adding that he also received plenty of criticism for his decision.
“I have all the respect in the world for (Kaepernick),” he continued. “His protest was peaceful, and it didn’t do damage to his team. We have to continue to have this discussion; we have to talk about (race relations and police brutality). This is something that all of us should be able to get behind.”
He also said it’s important for Americans to denounce violence and hatred — an example being the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in 2017 that resulted in three deaths and dozens of injuries — and strive to make the country more innovative and self-sufficient.
Abdul-Jabbar has lived by that philosophy, serving as chairman of the Skyhook Foundation. The program allows children from inner cities to go to an educational camp based on the STEM curriculum. There, they are hopefully inspired to do well in school and make important contributions in science, engineering and other fields.
“Too many kids think they want to be Denzel (Washington) or LeBron (James),” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We’ve got to cure them of that. This country needs engineers, too.”
Abdul-Jabbar also talked hoops, of course, sharing many stories from his relationship with legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden and some of the accomplishments in his career he is most proud of. His first love was baseball, but seeing “Go Man Go,” a movie about the famous Harlem Globetrotters, helped him discover his passion for basketball.
He encouraged the students of Wilkes to have the same kind of open mind, offering them a simple piece of advice as they try to determine the next chapter of their lives.
“Take your time as you go through school, because you’ll figure out what you want to do,” he said. “Just be patient and follow your heart.”
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